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Archive for the ‘J.G. Ballard’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: CHRIS WALLA AND J. ROBBINS-Create ‘Mercury’ (Project Song: October 12, 2009).

Project Song was a nifty little show that NPR Music created.  The premise was that NPR would give a musician some prompts and a recording studio.  They then had two days to write and record a song.  I don’t know how much of the process was to be filmed, but presumably most of it. Then it would be edited down to a fifteen minute show.  The results are pretty cool and it’s a shame they only made five of them.

The fourth one they did was over a year and a half after the previous one.  This Project was offered to Chris Walla (of Death Cab for Cutie) and a performer he’d admired, J. Robbins (of Jawbox and Burning Airlines).

What made this project especially difficult was that the two had never even met before they stepped into NPR’s performance studio.

I supplied some inspiration for their song: photo collages created by artist Tom Chambers [The picture are really, really cool]. They chose a photograph of a house in a canyon filled with water, tilted and flooded. Not far from the house is a dog on a boat, floating either toward or away from the house. I also supplied a series of words. They selected the word “cerebral” and promised when they wrote the song not to be too cerebral about it.

Unlike the pairing from Georgie James, this pair is instantly excited at the possibilities–changes and ideas.

Robbins says he will not write any lyrics, it takes him a month and a half to hone them,

But it didn’t take long for Robbins to pick up his bass guitar, for Walla to pick up a guitar, and for the two to begin their musical friendship.

They were inspired by JG Ballard and his drowned world series. In these books there are people who know the world is dying but they embrace it as a forward movement into the unknown

J. get a great bass line right away (its sounds very Death Cab, interestingly).  Bob asks about the music and J. says the music sounds like a dog on a boat heading towards a half-submerged house.  And Walla is singing the word “mercury.”

Walla and Robbins were joined by Robbins’ friend, drummer Darren Zentek.

He adds a wonderful beat and the song sounds great.  They get excited filling out the possibilities–end on the bridge!

Walla goes off by himself to write lyrics.  And Robbins works on a piano part.  And then things really come together when Walla picks up the 12 string.

The song they created, “Mercury,” takes its subject matter from that photograph, which is a bit of a cataclysmic scenario turned into a song about the climate crisis.

The result has a definite Death Cab feel, but with Robbins and Walla alternating lead vocals it is a different, wonderful thing.

[READ: July 23, 2018] “I Walk Between the Raindrops”

This story centers around Valentine’s Day.  But it’s a T.C. Boyle story so there’s always something else to look forward to.

I love the way this story opens with Brandon the narrator telling us.

This past Valentine’s Day, I was in Kingman, Arizona, with my wife, Nola, staying in the Motel 6 there, just off the I-40. You might not think of Kingman as a prime location for a romantic getaway (who would?), but Nola and I have been married for fifteen years now, and romance is just part of the continuum….  Were we slumming?  Yes, sure.  We could have stayed anywhere we liked…and if it’s not ideal, at least it’s different.

They were there because Nola’s father lives nearby and they decided to pay a visit and to let Nola search for antiques.  They went to Denny’s (the only place her father will eat), and after eating, Nola went antiquing and Brandon went to a bar to wait for her.

It’s not unfriendly (despite some graffiti like “fuck you, liberal pussies” (which he chooses to take as ironic), but he doesn’t order a Pinot Noir or anything.  (more…)

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augSOUNDTRACK: HOLLY MACVE-“Sycamore Tree” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 16, 2016).

macveHolly Macve (pronounced Mac-vee) is a 20-year-old songwriter from County Galway. At the time of SXSW she only had some demos available.

For this Lullaby, it’s just her and her acoustic guitar.  Her low notes seem surprisingly low somehow (I ‘m guessing she plays very cleanly so her notes stand out).

But the thing that stands out most is her voice.  The song’s melody is pretty standard, but she often jumps octaves and nearly creaks her voice while getting there–it’s unsettling and charming at the same time.  She sounds very old school country to me.

Also notable is the length of this song.  It seems like a simple folk song with a pretty standard verse structure.  In good Irish tradition, it also tells a story.  But the slow pace seems to really stretch out the music.  The chorus seems a few lines longer than one might expect (I do love the past and future mixed together in the lyrics).  When she gets to a third part, which takes the song in a rather unexpected direction with very high notes, it’s unclear how long this song might just wind up being.

Macve has a lovely sound, and I enjoyed this song as a lullaby, but I think she’s too far into the country realm for my liking.

[READ: February 10, 2016] “Notes on Some Twentieth-Century Writers”

The August 2015 Harper’s had a “forum” called How to Be a Parent.  Sometimes these forums are dialogues between unlikely participants and sometimes, like in this case, each author contributes an essay on the topic.  There are ten contributors to this Forum: A. Balkan, Emma Donoghue, Pamela Druckerman, Rivka Galchen, Karl Taro Greenfeld, Ben Lerner, Sarah Manguso, Claire Messud, Ellen Rosenbush and Michelle Tea.  Since I have read pieces from most of these authors I’ll write about each person’s contribution.

I have enjoyed Rivka Galchen’s works.  Indeed, I have tried to write about everything she’s written.  One of the things I especially like about her is that she always defies expectations.  So, in this Forum, while everyone else is writing about being a parent, Galchen writes about writers who were or were not parents.

She lists dozens of writers and states their parental status.  I will not go through them all because it would be exhausting (and would basically just duplicate what she wrote). (more…)

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houseSOUNDTRACK: LAURA VEIRS-Tiny Desk Concert #49 (March 1, 2010).

lauraI have decided to contradict myself.  I simply cannot keep up with the regular release of Tiny Desk Concerts (sometimes 3 a week), so I’m going to focus on these older recordings for a while and occasionally devote a week or two to new ones.  we’ll see how that works out.

I only know Laura Veirs’ name, but not really anything she’s done.  So I wasn’t really sure what her “solo” work would sound like.  Well, she has a delightful voice and she writes really pretty songs.

She also offers one of the most dramatic screw ups I’ve seen in a live performance. She opens her song “Carol Kaye” with this lovely melody–just her and her guitar.  And then after about a minute, her band comes in with a beautiful harmony–in the wrong key!  The introduction of their voices is so dramatic (to go from her gentle voice to this huge chorus) was really amazing.  So much so that I didn’t quite realize they were in the wrong key at first.  Turns out that Laura put her capo on the wrong fret and it wasn’t until the keyboardist played the right note that they all sounded off.  And his mouth drops opens as he stares at Laura.  She laughs and says “you looked like this terrified Muppet.”

They play the song again, this time perfectly–and the harmonies are truly lovely.  As is the violin that swirls throughout the song.

“When You Give Your Heart” is another lovely song in which Viers’ voice and the violin play the same lilting melody.

“Sun is King” has some more lovely (that’s the word to describe her, clearly) harmonies–she has picked a tremendous backing band.  And they sound great in this small setting.

It’s hard to believe that the whole set (miscue and all) is only ten minutes long.

[READ: May 1, 2015] House of Leaves

I read this book when it came out in 2000.  I had the “2 Color” edition which the t.p,. verso explains has as features: “either house appears in blue or struck passages and the word minotaur appear in red (I had the blue version).  No Braille.  Color or black & white plates.”

The Full Color edition (which is the same price, amazingly) differs in this way:

  • The word house in blue, minotaur and all struck passages in red
  • The only struck line in Chapter XXI appears in purple
  • XXXXXX and color plates

So basically the full color edition isn’t really that big a deal although the three or four full color plates are much nicer.

Why do I have both?  Well, I bought the two color when it came out and then I won a free book at the library and there was this full color edition, so I brought it home.  I was amused to find that the previous owner had deciphered a clue in the back of the book (the first letters of sentences spell out a secret message).  She (it looks like woman’s handwriting) wrote out the secret message, which I appreciated as I didn’t feel like figuring it out.

ANYWAY.

This book had a huge impact on me when I read it.  Although I forgot a lot of the details, the overwhelming effect of the book has stayed with me an I never forgot the central conceit of a house that opened secret passages and expanded or contracted at will.  For, make no mistake about all of the accolades, this is a horror story.  One accolade, from Bret Easton Ellis: “One can imagine Thomas Pynchon, J.G. Ballard. Stephen King and David Foster Wallace bowing at Danielewski’s feet, choking with astonishment, surprise, laughter awe.” [Ellis will not be bowing apparently, and actually I can’t imagine Pynchon bowing before anyone].  It’s a very cool horror story with all kind of textual experimentation and twists and turns, but it’s still a pretty damned scary story.

The experiments are many and varied and they begin right from the start, as the title page lists Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves by Zampanò with an introduction and notes by Johnny Truant. The forward from the editors notes: “The first edition of House of Leaves was privately distributed and did not contain Chapter 21, Appendix II, Appendix III or the index.

This is all nonsense of course. (more…)

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fivedials_no30SOUNDTRACK: Random songs at the roller rink (December 29, 2013)

skateWe went rollerskating on Sunday and they played all kinds of pop hits.  They played “Dancing Queen” and “YMCA,” sure, but they also played a lot of recent big hits.  And I said to myself either I have grown more tolerant of pop songs or pop songs are simply better than they were in the 80s and 90s.

Because I thoroughly enjoyed hearing “Gangnam Style” (perhaps a pop song where you don’t know the words is really the way to go) and “What Does the Fox Say?” (or perhaps when the words are so preposterous).  “Blurred Lines” is incredibly catchy (although it would be better without the offensive lyrics).  I also enjoyed “Call Me Maybe” which is treacly sure, but the melody is super catchy and “Rolling in the Deep” because Adele kicks ass.

Of course when I looked at the list of #1 hits for 2013, I literally didn’t know any of them (except “Blurred Lines” and “Royals,”) so maybe pop is not what I think it is.  Maybe I just like YouTube sensations.

Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding!  Happy New Year.

[READ: December 27, 2013] Five Dials #30

I was surprised to get this issue of Five Dials just as I was reading the other recent ones.  It allowed me to finish up Five Dials and the year at around the same time.  This issue introduces a new graphics editor: Antonio de Luca and he really changes the look of the magazine.  (He also used to work for The Walrus).  Rather than pictures being centered in the page, they spread from one page to another (which works well online but less so if you print it out).  The illustrations are also much bolder.

This is a short issue (which I appreciated).  And it does what I especially like about Five Dials–focusing tightly on one thing, in this case Albert Camus, who I like but who I have not read much.  It’s his centenary and many things have been said about him, so what else is there to say?  They find two things worth saying.

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editor: On Tony, On Dean, On Camus, On Algiers
Taylor talks about the illustrations of the issue–they were spray painted on walls by an Algerian-French collective known as the Zoo Project.  The new editor took photos and then Photoshopped away the extraneous stuff to leave us with just the graphics–giving them a permanence that they would normally not have.  Taylor also says goodbye to Dean Allen, the outgoing art director.  Then he gets to the heart of this issue: Albert Camus and Algiers (where Camus is from).  Curtis Gillespie decided to go to Algiers to find out how much the people there know and love Camus (and he found it to be a much more difficult trip than he imagined). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SURFER BLOOD-Tarot Classics (2012).

I really enjoyed Surfer Blood’s debut album.  This EP is a little stopgap until the next one. Although the sound is unmistakably Surfer Blood–poppy hooks and a very recognizable singing voice, the band sounds a little bit different here.  They haven’t lost any of their catchiness–there may be even more on the opener, “I’m Not Ready” (who doesn’t love when the guitar and vocals match each other?)  “Miranda” has that fun thumping chorus that is always fun to sing along to.

“Voyager Reprise” moves away from the surf-styled songs of their debut into an alt-rock of the 90s sound–when guitars were noisy (until they were quiet for a bit) and guitar solos happened between verses instead of as the third verse.  And “Drinking Problem” has a kind of early Depeche Mode (in vocals, not synths) feel–quite a departure from their debut.

In the way of EPs, the final two songs are remixes.  I’ve never been a fan or remixes and these don’t do much for me, but i do wonder if they will have any impact on their future sound.

[READ: June 14, 2012] “Olds Rocket 88, 1950”

All this time I thought there were only five of these short essays in this sci-fi issue of the New Yorker.  And yet tucked away near the back was the sixth one by William Gibson, a pioneer in science fiction.

Gibson’s recollection is of being a child and having everything seem like science fiction–something that is notably absent these days.  Like the chrome trim on his father’s Oldsmobile Rocket 88, the prevalence of spacemen and space-themed ideas everywhere.  Even the word Tomorrow was capitalized.

Then he recounts a personal incident.  He got in trouble with his parents for arguing with an Air Force man.  The man said space travel would never happen. But Gibson knew it would.  How could it not?  And science fiction shaped this worldview.  Not that he believed the stories would come true, but that his entire mindset was that in the future “things might be different…and different in literally any way you could imagine, however radical.”

What a wonderfully freeing notion.  To me, this sort of future-looking lifestyle accounted for the unprecedented achievements of post 1950 America.  Now that we no longer think of tomorrow with a capital T, we don’t seem as enchanted by the future.  Perhaps it was a naive outlook, but you need a certain degree of naiveté if you hope to do anything radically new.

Gibson ties in the sci-fi books he bought for a dollar to other fantasists: J.G. Ballard, Ursula K. Le Guin, Michael Moorcock, and how these thinkers weren’t all that far off from the likes of Kerouac and William S. Burroughs.  And he believes that without science fiction, he might not have been interested in what these other radical writers had to say.

It’s a short piece, but it really made me wish for more chrome and space-age technology in our lives–when people weren’t afraid to dram big.

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SOUNDTRACK: DO MAKE SAY THINK-Other Truths [CST062] (2009).

I’ve always enjoyed Do Make Say Think’s CDs.  They play instrumentals that are always intriguing and which never get dull.

But this CD far exceeds anything they have done so far (and  they’ve done some great work).   There are only four tracks, and they range from 8 to 12 minutes long.  Each track is named for a word in the band’s name: Do, Make, Say, Think.  And each one is a fully realized mini epic.

“Do” sounds like a gorgeous Mogwai track.  While “Make” has wonderfully diverse elements: a cool percussion midsection and a horn-fueled end section that works perfectly with the maniacal drumming.  “Say” is another Mogwai-like exploration, although it is nicely complemented by horns.  It also ends with a slow jazzy section that works in context but is somewhat unexpected. Finally, “Think” closes the disc with a delightful denouement.  It’s the slowest (and shortest) track, and it shows that even slowing down their instrumentals doesn’t make them dull.

It’s a fantastic record from start to finish.  This is hands down my favorite Constellation release in quite some time.

[READ: December 2009 – January 13, 2010] McSweeney’s #33.

The ever-evolving McSweeney’s has set out to do the unlikely: they printed Issue #33 as a Sunday Newspaper.  It is called The San Francisco Panorama and, indeed, it is just like a huge Sunday newspaper. It has real news in (it is meant to be current as of December 7, 2009).  As well as a Sports section, a magazine section and even comics!

[DIGRESSION] I stopped reading newspapers quite some time ago.  I worked for one in college and have long been aware that the news is just something to fill the space between ads.  I do like newspapers in theory, and certainly hope they don’t all go away but print issues are a dying breed.  When I think about the waste that accompanies a newspaper, I’m horrified.  Sarah and I even did a Sunday New York Times subscription for a while, but there were half a dozen sections that we would simply discard unopened.  And, realistically that’s understandable.  Given how long it took me  to read all of the Panorama, if you actually tried to read the whole Sunday paper, you’d be finished the following Sunday (or even two Sundays later).

Their lofty goal here was to show what print journalism can still do. And with that I concur heartily.  Even if I don’t read the newspaper, the newspapers as entities are worth saving.  Because it is pretty much only print journalism that finds real, honest to God, worthy news stories.  TV news is a joke.  There is virtually nothing of value on network TV.  Fox News is beyond a joke.  CNBC is sad (although Rachel Maddow is awesome!) and even CNN, the originator of all of this 24 hour news nonsense still can’t fill their airtime with non-sensationalized news.

Obviously, there are some decent internet sites, but for the most part they don’t have the budget to support real news investigation.  You either get sensationalized crap like Drudge or rebroadcasts of real news.

So, print is the last bastion of news.  And you can see that in journalistic pieces in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Walrus, Prospect and, yes, in newspapers.

But enough.  What about THIS newspaper?  Oh and unlike other McSweeney’s reviews I’ve done, there is NO WAY that I am writing a thorough comment on everything in here.  There’s just way too much.  Plus, there are many sections that are just news blurbs.  Larger articles and familiar authors will be addressed, however.  [UPDATE: January 18]: If, however, like Alia Malek below, you bring it to my attention that I’ve left you out (or gotten something wrong!) drop me a line, and I’ll correct things.

There is in fact a Panorama Information Pamphlet which answers a lot of basic questions, like why, how and how often (just this once, they promise!). There’s also a Numbers section which details the size, scope and cost of making this (it shows that with an initial start up, anyone could make a newspaper if they talked enough about what the readers were interested in). (more…)

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dfwreviewSOUNDTRACK: THE SMITHS-Whistle Test on the Road – Live at Derby Assembly Rooms, 9 December 1983. (VH1, BBC CROWN JEWELS: October 2009).

smithsI was delighted to see this on my TiVo queue.  I have the Smith’s Rank disc, but I’ve never actually seen them live in any format.  And this show is from 1983!  Who even knows why they filmed The Smiths in 1983, before they had even released their first disc.

This show is pretty exciting as the fans are very rowdy.  Morrissey is also waving gladiolas all over the place, and flowers keep landing on stage (one even hits Morrissey in the eye and he leaves the stage for a bit (while the song “Miserable Lie” is finished as an instrumental.

During the encore, the fans swarm the stage, hugging Morrissey and, at one point, rendering him incapable of singing at all.  From what little I know of Morrissey I found it surprising how good matured he remained during the whole proceedings.

The few funny things to note: Johnny Marr is virtually motionless in the corner, but his guitar sounds great.  He pulls of all of those cool guitar sounds and effects that will later be on the record, and yet he stands almost stock still with his huge bowl haircut.  And Morrissey’s voice sounds a lot deeper during this set than I’m used to.  He doesn’t sound bad, in fact he sounded very good (and he hits the high notes quite easily), it just wasn’t what I expected.

For the set list & other info, check out this cool Smiths site.

This above site gives lots of facts about the show, and mentions that this was a free show orchestrated by John Peel.  So, that explains a lot of the rabble-rowsers.  Although even with the stage swarming and mic-stealing it seemed like the crowd was all having fun and not causing any trouble (except for Morrissey).  If you’re a Smiths fan, this is totally worth watching on VH1.

[READ: early October 2009] DFW Book Reviews

Yeah, I know, I am getting obsessed. But it’s more like completist.  I think I realized that if I don’t read all of the loose articles around the same time, I’m going to have like two or three printouts lying around my house.  (At this point I have 4 articles or stories left).

I wasn’t going to read the book reviews.  After all, it seems kind of a weird thing to read if you’re not going to read the book in question. But when I checked the Howling Fantods list there were only a dozen or so and most are about a page, so it didn’t take that much effort to read them.

As always, the bold text is from The Howling Fantods (thanks guys). (more…)

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